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I thank the residents of Hastings and Rye for putting their faith in me and the Conservative party by electing me as their representative in Parliament. It is an honour to represent them all, and I pledge to work hard and to serve them all.
Beautiful Hastings and Rye is a gem of a constituency that has a huge amount to offer residents, visitors and tourists alike. We own history. We have an abundance of natural attractions found in our beautiful beaches and glorious countryside. We have a wealth of historic towns, buildings and gardens, and we have world-renowned festivals—including our piano festival—art galleries, vineyards and attractions such as the Source skatepark, the biggest in Europe. We are proud to have hosted the world crazy golf championship since 2003. We have amazing communities of churches and volunteers, which reach out to help our most vulnerable and in need.
We have one of the oldest beach-launched fishing fleets in the country, dating back more than a thousand years, which must be preserved and, more importantly, allowed to flourish as we leave the EU. Regaining control of our waters will re-establish and strengthen the heart and soul of Hastings and Rye and all our fishing communities from John O’Groats to Land’s End.
Tourism plays a significant role in the local economy, supporting nearly 30% of local jobs. The local councils work hard together with local businesses and community groups to be innovative in boosting the tourist, arts and culture offer. There is huge potential for growth, and as we leave the European Union the Government must continue to focus on initiatives and measures that will maximise tourism’s contribution, not only for Hastings and Rye’s rural coastal economy, but for the UK as a whole.
We have a number of successful manufacturing businesses, particularly in the vacuum engineering and defence sector. Economic growth outside the tourism sector must be a priority, as the constituency continues to suffer from poverty. Hastings is failing to thrive, despite significant sums of money being invested. The constituency may be in the affluent south-east, but it is one of the most deprived in the country.
Yesterday, the Chancellor praised a Scot, John Logie Baird, for inventing the television, which he did—in Hastings, the birthplace of television. That sense of creativity, innovation and dynamism has never left the town. There is so much talent waiting to be unleashed, but there is a lack of investment, confidence, aspiration and hope—something that I am determined to change. We must develop opportunities for all to excel. As such, I was proud to stand on a manifesto commitment to level up.
When it comes to education, skills and qualifications, we are in the bottom five of the most unqualified, unskilled populations. We have a duty to improve the quality and breadth of education. Education is fundamental in unlocking the potential of Hastings and Rye, to support and encourage economic growth. Continued investment in primary school education is necessary to give our children the best start in life. Secondary education is not just about academics. We need to offer the best technical and vocational training to improve the chance and quality of employment for more of our young people, making them nationally and globally competitive.
We also need to provide better education and support for people with special educational needs and disabilities to enable them to access work experience and employment and to be properly paid for the jobs they do. Giving them the support they need must not be something their families have to fight for; it must be a given.
Family, however comprised, is the single most important influence in a child’s life. I say that as a wife of 27 years —I thank my lovely husband for coming to support me today—and as a mother of three adult children. All children thrive in loving, secure families, but some families need help, support and extra resources and we have to focus on early intervention and prevention. We have not placed enough value on the role of family life and I am determined that that will change.
Looking back at the maiden speeches of my last four predecessors in Hastings and Rye, I saw that they all highlight the necessity of improvements to the A21, known locally as the “snail trail” from London to Hastings, as an essential prerequisite to economic development in the constituency. Although I welcome the Chancellor’s announcement on investment in our roads, I am standing here nearly 50 years later, making the same point as my predecessors: to have any chance of levelling up opportunities in Hastings and Rye or of unleashing the potential of our residents and businesses, this Government need to invest in the A21 and in the local rail and bus transport infrastructure. A good transport infrastructure platform combined with a skilled local population will encourage existing businesses to grow and new businesses to start up, boosting economic growth in Hastings and Rye and combating poverty. As such, I will be raising this point at every possible opportunity until a solution is found.
I would like to pay tribute to my predecessor, Amber Rudd. Amber was elected in 2010 and built a reputation locally for being a hard-working MP. She secured improvements to rail times and progress on electrification. She is particularly proud of her ARSE—the Amber Rudd seaside express, the first ever almost-direct Hastings to London commuter train. She also secured the link road and investment in infrastructure and skills to help local people into work and better paid careers.
I am Geordie born, with Scots and a touch of Northern Irish blood coursing through my veins, representing the East Sussex constituency that I am proud to call my home and where I have raised my family. As such, I hope this blend can be the best of British. Our Union is precious, our one nation. Our freedom and independence come from our departure from the EU. This is our time; let us grab the opportunities together and make this kingdom united and our Britain great.